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1 i VA Office of Inspector General OFFICE OF AUDITS AND EVALUATIONS Veterans Benefits Administration Audit of Liquidation Appraisal Oversight Cleveland and Phoenix Regional Loan Centers October 4,

2 ACRONYMS AND ABBREVIATIONS AMS/AVMS CAP ICM LGY LoanSTAR OIG RLC SAR VBA Appraisal Management System/Automated Valuation Model Services Corrective Action Plan Internal Control Management Loan Guaranty Loan Systematic Technical Accuracy Review Office of Inspector General Regional Loan Center Staff Appraiser Reviewer Veterans Benefits Administration To Report Suspected Wrongdoing in VA Programs and Operations: Telephone: (Hotline Information:

3 Report Highlights: Audit of VBA s Liquidation Appraisal Oversight, Cleveland and Phoenix Regional Loan Centers Why We Did This Audit In FY 2011, the Veterans Benefits Administration s (VBA) Loan Guaranty (LGY) Program paid just over $1.4 billion to acquire about 14,000 foreclosed real estate properties. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted this audit to evaluate the effectiveness of Regional Loan Center (RLC) oversight of liquidation appraisals and to follow up on our 2009 audit that found LGY Service needed to improve risk management. What We Found The Cleveland and Phoenix RLCs needed to improve liquidation appraisal oversight. RLC staff did not consistently review liquidation appraisal comparable property selections and sales price adjustments needing further review. Cleveland and Phoenix RLC staff did not conduct these reviews because LGY Service policies and procedures did not include sufficient criteria for RLC staff to evaluate every appraisal. In addition, LGY Service did not use an automated appraisal review tool. As a result, VA may not pay fair and reasonable prices when acquiring properties. Although LGY Service had initiated a Risk Management Program, LGY Service must take further actions to strengthen risk management. During FY 2010, LGY Service did not analyze internal control test results, develop corrective action plans, or conduct ongoing monitoring. During FY 2011, LGY Service still had not completed some important risk management actions. Consequently, threats to accomplishing LGY Service goals and objectives may go undetected until significant problems develop. What We Recommended We recommended that the Under Secretary for Benefits revise LGY Service policies and procedures, use an automated appraisal review tool, fully implement LGY Service s Risk Management Program, and revise LGY Service managers performance plans. Agency Comments The Under Secretary for Benefits did not agree with Recommendation 1, but agreed with Recommendations 2 4. Nonetheless, the Under Secretary stated VBA would implement an appraisal review tool for exception-based oversight, which will meet the intent of Recommendations 1 and 2. The Under Secretary also stated VBA had implemented LGY Service s Risk Management Program and revised performance plans for LGY Service managers. In general, the Under Secretary expressed significant concerns with our report and did not agree with many of our conclusions. OIG Comments We continue to strongly believe the audit evidence sufficiently and appropriately provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions. We will follow up on implementation of the corrective actions. LINDA A. HALLIDAY Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations i

4 TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction... 1 Results and Recommendations... 2 Finding 1 Improved Oversight Will Help Ensure VA Pays Fair and Reasonable Prices for Foreclosed Properties... 2 Finding 2 Further Actions Needed to Strengthen LGY Service s Risk Management Program Appendix A Background Appendix B Appendix C Appendix D Appendix E Appendix F Scope and Methodology Additional Examples of Liquidation Appraisals Needing Further Review Under Secretary for Benefits Comments Office of Inspector General Contact and Staff Acknowledgments Report Distribution ii

5 INTRODUCTION Objective LGY Program Mission Recent Reorganization Regional Loan Centers Liquidation Appraisals The audit evaluated the effectiveness of Cleveland and Phoenix Regional Loan Centers (RLC) oversight of real estate liquidation appraisals and followed up on our April 2009 audit that found Loan Guaranty (LGY) Service needed to improve risk management. LGY Service administers the LGY Program mission of assisting eligible service members, veterans, and surviving spouses to purchase and retain real estate properties. A key component of the mission is to guarantee portions of lender loans obtained to purchase real estate properties. Effective April 2011, the VA Secretary reorganized the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) headquarters to increase oversight of all major program areas, including LGY Service. The Secretary assigned a new Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity responsibility for oversight of Education, LGY, and Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Services. Prior to April 2011, the Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Policy and Program Management was responsible for LGY Service. Nine RLCs provide oversight of the appraisal process. The Cleveland and Phoenix RLCs completed almost 9,500 (24 percent) of the nearly 40,000 liquidation appraisals finished during FY LGY Service policies and procedures require RLC staff to conduct desk reviews of selected liquidation appraisal reports to ensure they are complete, consistent, logical, and include descriptions of appraisal methodologies and conclusions. RLC staff perform field reviews of 10 percent of appraisals. Field reviews must also include observations of subject and comparable property characteristics. (Appendix A provides additional details on the LGY Program mission, liquidation appraisals, and RLC oversight.) Real estate appraisals are professional opinions of property fair market value at a certain point in time. When loan defaults occur on guaranteed properties, LGY Service assigns contract appraisers to conduct liquidation appraisals of the properties. Contract appraisers have broad discretion to apply their professional judgment in establishing fair market values. During FY 2011, contract appraisers conducted about 40,000 liquidation appraisals of properties with values totaling just over $5 billion. Federal law requires VA to use appraisal fair market values when determining whether to acquire foreclosed properties and the amount to pay lenders for acquired properties. A contractor manages and sells acquired properties for VA. During FY 2010, VA sold almost 16,000 properties at a loss of nearly $370 million. In FY 2011, VA sold about 16,400 properties, slightly more than FY 2010, while losses increased nearly 22 percent to almost $450 million. VA Office of Inspector General 1

6 RESULTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS Finding 1 Improved Oversight Will He lp Ensure VA Pays Fair and Reasonable Prices for Foreclosed Properties Increasing the effectiveness of Cleveland and Phoenix RLC oversight of liquidation appraisals will help ensure VA pays fair and reasonable prices when acquiring real estate properties. For 35 of 47 sampled Cleveland and Phoenix RLC liquidation appraisals, RLC staff did not sufficiently review comparable property selections and comparable property sales price adjustments that had potential to affect subject property valuations. For 31 of the 35 appraisals, Cleveland and Phoenix RLC staff did not identify the comparable property selections, adjustments, or nonadjustments needing further review. For the four remaining appraisals, Cleveland and Phoenix RLC staff identified comparable property selections, adjustments, or nonadjustments needing further review, but they did not conduct the reviews. This inadequate oversight occurred because LGY Service: Did not use an automated quality control tool to review appraisals Policies and procedures did not include sufficiently specific criteria for evaluating comparable property selections and price adjustments As a result, there are increased risks that VA will not pay a fair and reasonable price when acquiring foreclosed properties. Cleveland and Phoenix RLC staff agreed the comparable property selections, adjustments, and nonadjustments we identified needed further review. These RLC employees were subject matter experts who had several years of experience, knowledge, and familiarity with local real estate markets. However, LGY Service senior appraisers in VA Central Office did not agree with the RLC subject matter experts that all the appraisals needed further review. The inconsistency between VA Central Office staff and RLC staff further illustrates the need for LGY Service policies and procedures to include sufficiently specific criteria for evaluating comparable property selections and price adjustments. Comparable Property Selections For 6 of the 47 sampled Cleveland and Phoenix RLC liquidation appraisals, RLC staff needed to conduct further reviews of comparable property selections. Selecting appropriate comparable properties is an important step of the appraisal process to ensure property valuations are fair and reasonable. LGY Service policies and procedures require contract appraisers to use the sales comparison approach when determining property values. The sales comparison approach requires appraisers to select at least three properties that are comparable with the subject property. LGY Service policies and VA Office of Inspector General 2

7 procedures also require appraisers to not restrict comparable property selections to properties solely in similar conditions as the subject property. A property in a different condition than the subject property may be a better indicator of value with proper sales price adjustments. LGY Service policies delineate three main factors in selecting the best comparable properties. First, sales prices for the three comparable properties should be within a narrow price range. Second, sales dates of comparable properties typically should be within 6 months prior to the subject property appraisal date. Third, comparable properties should be in close proximity to the subject property. The comparable property selections needing further RLC staff review were instances where a national real estate database reported a different property sale that met at least two of the three main factors better than the property selected by the appraiser. For the six liquidation appraisals with comparable property selections needing further review, potentially better comparable properties were available than the properties selected by the appraiser. The following example highlights an appraisal report RLC staff needed to review further to ensure VA paid a fair and reasonable price for the property. In August 2010, a contract appraiser valued a subject property located in Ohio at $83,000. The appraisal report showed the appraiser selected three comparable properties that sold in August 2009 (two properties) and May 2010 (one property) with about a 31 percent price variation ranging from $80,000 to $104,500. However, a real estate database showed two potentially better comparable properties. These properties sold in June and July 2010, which were more recent, and when combined with the property that sold in May 2010 had a significantly smaller price range of $12,000 (18 percent) from $68,000 to $80,000. Because RLC staff did not conduct further reviews of the comparable property selections, VA may not have paid a fair and reasonable price for the property. To improve the oversight of liquidation appraisals and help ensure fair and reasonable liquidation property valuations, LGY Service needs to revise policies and procedures to require an evaluation of all contract appraiser comparable property selections. This evaluation must include the use of independent data sources, such as county property tax records and multiple listing services, to evaluate the appropriateness of comparable property selections. A multiple listing service is a database maintained by a group of real estate brokers to provide information about properties for sale. Adjustments and Nonadjustments After selecting sold properties to compare with the subject property, appraisers adjust comparable property sales prices for characteristic differences. For 35 of 47 sampled Cleveland and Phoenix RLC liquidation appraisals, RLC staff needed to conduct further reviews of 99 adjustments or VA Office of Inspector General 3

8 nonadjustments related to comparable property sales prices (30 adjustments and 69 nonadjustments). The 30 adjustments were instances where a real estate database or county records indicated an appraisal adjustment for a comparable property characteristic should possibly have been a higher or lower dollar amount. The 69 nonadjustments were instances where the appraisal report did not include any dollar adjustment for a significant comparable property characteristic difference from the subject property. Individual appraisals had up to 10 adjustments or nonadjustments RLC staff needed to further review. For 8 of these 99 property characteristics, RLC staff did identify the adjustments or nonadjustments but they did not conduct further reviews. The adjustments and nonadjustments were for characteristic differences between subject and comparable properties such as room counts, gross living areas, site size, and declining market conditions. Adjusting comparable property sales prices is an important step of the appraisal process to ensure property valuations are fair and reasonable. The sales comparison approach requires appraisers to adjust comparable properties sales prices to compensate for differences between subject and comparable property characteristics. When significant property characteristic differences exist between the subject and comparable properties, appraisers must add or subtract dollar amounts from comparable property sales prices to determine adjusted sales prices. LGY Service policies require the appraised value of a subject property to not exceed the highest adjusted sale price of three comparable properties. LGY Service policies and procedures require contract appraisers to complete an appraisal report when performing liquidation appraisals. The appraisal report lists more than 25 different property characteristics appraisers must consider when comparing subject and comparable properties. These characteristics include location, age, fireplaces, and quality of construction. LGY Service policies and procedures also require appraisers to record the sources of property characteristic information. Possible sources include physical inspections and county property tax records. Figure 1 that follows, shows the number of sampled appraisals with adjustments or nonadjustments RLC staff needed to review further. Some appraisals had adjustments or nonadjustments needing further review for multiple characteristics. VA Office of Inspector General 4

9 Figure 1 Sampled Cleveland and Phoenix RLC Appraisals With Adjustments or Nonadjustments Needing Further RLC Staff Review 22 Liquidation Appraisals (35) 18 Nonadjustment Issues (69) Adjustment Issues (30) Room Count Gross Living Site Size Declining Miscellaneous Fireplace Property Area Markets Adjustments Condition Source: VA OIG analysis of real estate liquidation appraisals The following examples related to room counts and gross living areas highlight how RLC staff need to further review liquidation appraisal adjustments to help ensure VA pays a fair and reasonable price when acquiring foreclosed properties. (See Appendix C for additional examples of liquidation appraisals needing further review.) Room Counts Eighteen sampled liquidation appraisals had a total of 35 adjustments or nonadjustments for room count differences RLC staff needed to review further (13 adjustments and 22 nonadjustments). LGY Service policies and procedures require appraisal reports to include the total number of rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms for the subject and comparable properties. The following example highlights a nonadjustment related to the number of bathrooms in a property appraisal. A contract appraiser valued a subject property located in California at $185,000. The appraisal report showed one comparable property had 2.5 bathrooms. Our review of county tax records showed the comparable property had 3.5 bathrooms. However, the appraiser did not make an adjustment for the 1.0 bathroom difference. VA Office of Inspector General 5

10 Gross Living Area Fourteen sampled liquidation appraisals, had a total of 25 adjustments or nonadjustments related to gross living area square footage differences RLC staff needed to review further (11 adjustments and 14 nonadjustments). LGY Service policies and procedures require appraisal reports to show the gross living area square footage for subject and comparable properties. The gross living area adjustments or nonadjustments related to subject and comparable property square footage differences as large as 334 square feet. The following examples highlight an appraisal report adjustment and nonadjustment RLC staff needed to review further to ensure VA paid fair and reasonable prices for the properties. Adjustment A contract appraiser valued a subject property located in New Mexico at $155,000. The appraisal report showed the subject property gross living area was 2,543 square feet and made three comparable property sales price adjustments of $8,260, $1,960, and $1,140 for gross living area square footage differences. However, county property tax records and a subsequent appraisal performed by another contract appraiser showed the subject property gross living area was only 2,418 square feet, a difference of 125 square feet from the appraisal performed by the first contract appraiser. The appraisal report showed the gross living area was valued at $20 per square foot, which would equate to a possible $2,500 inaccurate sales price adjustments for all three comparable properties used. Nonadjustment A contract appraiser valued a subject property located in California at $303,000. The appraisal report showed the gross living area was 2,938 square feet for the subject property and 3,028 for one of the comparable properties. The appraisal report also showed the gross living area was valued at $35 per square foot. However, the report did not show an adjustment for the 90 square feet difference (value equaled $3,150). Although some of the 99 adjustments and nonadjustments may have been appropriate, LGY Service oversight did not provide reasonable assurance they were appropriate. LGY Service needs to improve oversight of liquidation appraisals to ensure RLC staff identify the type of adjustments and nonadjustments highlighted in this report and question contract appraisers about the appropriateness of the adjustment or nonadjustment. LGY Service managers told us they rely extensively on contract appraisers professional opinions and do not want to introduce any policies or procedures that might impair these opinions. However, LGY Service must protect VA s interests and ensure oversight of appraisals is sufficient to provide reasonable assurance of accurate property valuations. LGY Service can obtain this assurance by establishing specific criteria for comparable VA Office of Inspector General 6

11 property sales price adjustments and require contract appraisers to provide justification for variances from the criteria. Inadequate Evaluation of Comparable Properties Inadequate Criteria for RLC Staff Cleveland and Phoenix RLC staff did not identify comparable property selections, adjustments, and nonadjustments that needed further review because LGY Service policies and procedures did not require evaluations of all appraisals comparable property information. Generally, RLC staff accepted comparable property information in the appraisal report without checking property information reported by other sources. Independent data sources can be useful tools when evaluating liquidation appraisal comparable property information. These sources, such as county property tax records, national real estate databases, and multiple listing services, provide property information, such as room counts, gross living area square footage, and site sizes, that reviewers can compare with appraisal property information. Cleveland and Phoenix RLC staff also did not identify comparable property selections, adjustments, and nonadjustments that needed further review because LGY Service policies and procedures did not include sufficiently specific criteria for evaluating comparable property selections and prices. RLC staff and managers considered LGY Service policies and procedures inadequate because they did not provide sufficient details to help them consistently evaluate comparable property information affecting appraisal valuations. They also stated LGY Service policies and procedures relating to the comparable property selections and characteristics, discussed in this report, were too subjective and LGY Service needs to issue guidance that is more definitive. Discussed below are examples of how LGY Service can improve criteria related to comparable property selections and adjustments to comparable property sales prices for gross living area, site size, and declining market conditions. Comparable Property Selections LGY Service policies and procedures did not provide sufficient criteria on selecting the best comparable properties for liquidation appraisals. LGY Service policies delineate the following three main factors in selecting the best comparable properties. Comparable property sales prices should be within a narrow price range. Sales dates of comparable properties typically should be within 6 months of subject property appraisal dates. Comparable properties should be geographically located within close proximity to subject properties. However, LGY Service policies and procedures did not require appraisers to provide explanations that include their considerations of these three factors in their comparable selections. VA Office of Inspector General 7

12 For example, LGY Service policies and procedures did not define the parameters of what constitutes a narrow price range and did not require appraisers to provide justifications when selecting comparable properties outside defined parameters. For the 47 sampled appraisals, comparable property price ranges averaged 21 percent and the highest was 72 percent. The wide variance in comparable property price ranges demonstrates why LGY Service needs to strengthen comparable property sales prices criteria. Without more specific criteria, LGY Service will not have reasonable assurance that appraisers have selected the best comparable properties. Gross Living Area Site Size Declining Market Conditions LGY Service policies and procedures did not provide sufficient criteria on the amount and/or percent of gross living area square footage differences between subject and comparable properties that require adjustments or an explanation of the appraiser s decision not to make adjustments. For the 47 sampled appraisals, appraisers adjusted comparable property sales prices for gross living area differences as small as 10 square feet or 0.6 percent ($200 adjustment), while other appraisers did not make adjustments for differences as large as 90 square feet or 3.1 percent (value equaled $3,150). LGY Service policies and procedures did not provide sufficient criteria on the amount and/or percent of property site size differences between subject and comparable properties that require adjustments or an explanation of the appraiser s decision not to make adjustments. For the 47 sampled liquidation appraisals, appraisers adjusted comparable property sales prices for site size differences as small as 435 square feet or 4 percent ($10,000 adjustment) of the 11,325 square feet subject property site size. However, other appraisers did not make adjustments for differences as large as 13,419 square feet, or 242 percent of the 5,538 square feet subject property site size. LGY Service policies and procedures did not provide sufficient criteria on the percent of housing market declines in comparable properties market area that would require an adjustment, or an explanation of the appraiser s decision not to make an adjustment. The policies and procedures also did not include specific criteria on the amount of elapsed time between the date the comparable property sold to the appraisal date that would require an adjustment or an explanation for no adjustment. During the past several years, significant declines in U.S. housing markets have been widespread. According to the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency, during the 1-year period ending September 30, 2010, the average U.S. home value declined 3.2 percent. Forty (80 percent) of 50 states experienced declines in home values ranging from 0.5 to 9.8 percent. In addition, some metropolitan areas experienced even higher declines, such as Madeira, CA (11.7 percent); Bend, OR (13.7 percent); and Deltona, FL (15.7 percent). However, for the 47 sampled appraisals, which were completed during this period of declining housing markets, appraisers did VA Office of Inspector General 8

13 not make declining market adjustments for 122 (87 percent) of 141 comparable properties. Of the 122 comparable property sales prices that were not adjusted, the elapsed time between comparable property sale dates and appraisal dates averaged 116 days and was as high as 278 days. The risk is significantly higher in a declining housing market that contract appraisers may not appropriately adjust comparable property sales prices for declining market conditions. To address this risk, LGY Service needs to evaluate current policies and procedures and make revisions that include detailed criteria RLC staff can use to help ensure contract appraisers appropriately adjust comparable property sales prices. Automated Appraisal Reviews Are Needed To further improve liquidation appraisal oversight and ensure fair and reasonable property valuations, LGY Service needs to use a comprehensive automated appraisal quality control review tool. As we discussed comparable property selections, adjustments, and nonadjustments with RLC staff and management, they stated the RLC had insufficient staffing resources to thoroughly review the large volume of appraisals completed. During FY 2011, contract appraisers completed about 40,000 liquidation appraisals. An automated appraisal review tool will help improve LGY Service oversight while also addressing RLC concerns about insufficient staffing. Automated appraisal review software is readily available for purchase from several companies. The benefits of such a tool include: 1. Improving the quality of appraisers performance and appraisal reports 2. Creating quality benchmarks and standardized metrics for appraisers and appraisals 3. Identifying systemic and individual appraiser quality deficiencies 4. Leveraging existing resources to perform more detailed oversight 5. Reducing the time to perform appraisal reviews Using an automated appraisal review tool that incorporates improved policy and procedures (including specific criteria related to evaluating comparable property selections, adjustments, and nonadjustments) will further support LGY Service s quality control efforts and reduce program risks. To help address the oversight improvement areas discussed in this report, the automated appraisal review tool should be capable of two things. First, it needs to provide risk-based scoring of appraisals that enables LGY Service to perform enhanced analysis of targeted appraisals. Second, it needs to be capable of reviewing individual appraisals for: Compliance with LGY Service policies and procedures Selection of best comparable properties using most recent property sales in proximity to the subject property VA Office of Inspector General 9

14 Verification of comparable property sales prices and property characteristics available in public records and proprietary systems such as multiple listing services Completeness, accuracy, and consistency Property overvaluation or deviation from neighborhood norms LGY Service managers agreed that automated appraisal reviews will strengthen oversight and initiated the procurement of Appraisal Management System/Automated Valuation Model Services (AMS/AVMS). According to LGY Service officials, in December 2011, VA announced the pre-solicitation for AMS/AVMS. LGY Service anticipates awarding the contract by January Effect of Insufficient Oversight Conclusion Cleveland and Phoenix RLC s insufficient oversight of appraisal reports, inadequate criteria for appraisal reviewers, and lack of an automated appraisal review tool increased risks of VA not paying a fair and reasonable price when acquiring foreclosed properties. The two RLCs did not identify 89 percent of the comparable property selections, adjustments, and nonadjustments found during our audit that could affect property valuations. Property appraisals are an important aspect of the LGY Program mission to assist eligible veterans and surviving spouses in purchasing and retaining homes. Liquidation appraisals are an integral part of LGY Service s process in deciding whether to use taxpayer funds to procure foreclosed properties and the price to pay when acquiring properties. LGY Service needs to improve the effectiveness of liquidation appraisal oversight to help ensure fair and reasonable property valuations. During FY 2011, VA spent approximately $1.4 billion to acquire almost 14,000 foreclosed properties and incurred losses of about $450 million when selling nearly 16,400 properties. Factors determining VA losses include the price VA pays to acquire foreclosed properties, which are based on liquidation appraisals, VA s selling price, property maintenance costs, and depreciation costs. Therefore, VA needs to take quick actions to improve the oversight of appraisals. By strengthening the oversight of liquidation appraisals LGY Service will increase the accountability and stewardship of funds used to acquire foreclosed properties and safeguard the integrity of VA s LGY Program. Recommendations 1. We recommended the Under Secretary for Benefits revise Loan Guaranty Service policies and procedures to include more specific criteria for evaluating appraisal comparable property selections and sales price adjustments. VA Office of Inspector General 10

15 2. We recommended the Under Secretary for Benefits implement an automated appraisal review system to evaluate every liquidation appraisal. Management Comments The Under Secretary for Benefits concurred in part with our recommendations and did not agree with many of our conclusions. The Under Secretary did not concur with Recommendation 1 and stated VBA policies and procedures provide adequately specific guidance for appraisal reviewers. VBA believes additional criteria are not necessary as they would have a detrimental effect on the program and would infringe on the independence of contract appraisers. VBA asserted this infringement would cause appraisers to rightly refuse to perform work for VA, due to fears of violating Uniformed Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. Despite non-concurring with the recommendation, VBA stated that implementation of AMS/AVMS should resolve further concern. The Under Secretary concurred with Recommendation 2 and stated VBA is currently in the process of obtaining an AMS/AVMS, which LGY Service will use to help ensure appraisal compliance with designated rules. VBA expects to implement the AMS/AVMS in June In addition to responding to these recommendations, the Under Secretary discussed other concerns with the report. VBA stated it was not statistically valid to extrapolate findings from 47 cases selected from two offices to almost 16,400 properties sold nationally in FY Additionally, VBA stated that VA s $450 million loss from the sale of the 16,400 properties was the difference between the liquidation appraisal amounts and the final net sales proceeds of all properties sold by VA. This difference included property depreciation, property taxes, marketing and management expenses, and property preservation expenses. VBA contended the $450 million figure was improperly devised, inflated, and misrepresentative of the program. Another concern raised by VBA was that LGY Service s review of 8 of the 47 sampled appraisals did not support OIG s assessment of the appraisals. VBA stated the OIG s review of the appraisals included errors in assessing key facts. VBA also noted that LGY Service conveyed the findings of its review to the OIG, yet OIG did not modify the report. Consequently, VBA continues to dispute the findings that portray numerous cases as errors on the part of appraisers and LGY Service s oversight staff. OIG Response Considering VBA dedicates significant resources to perform appraisal oversight, its reluctance to strengthen criteria used to perform the oversight seems shortsighted. VBA s reasons for not agreeing with Recommendation 1 and other concerns about our report are unwarranted. The first recommendation applies to specific criteria RLC staff can use to evaluate appraisals not to guide contract appraisers in performing appraisals. As such, VBA implementation of this recommendation would not infringe on contract VA Office of Inspector General 11

16 appraiser independence or cause them to violate Uniformed Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice. We agree contract appraisers must follow industry and statutory requirements and standards to maintain appraiser independence. However, to ensure sufficient oversight, LGY Service must have adequate criteria RLC staff can use to identify appraisals warranting further review. For example, RLC staff need more specific criteria or benchmarks to know how wide a range of comparable property sales prices warrant further review and the distance between comparable properties and the subject property that warrant further review. RLC staff told us they considered LGY Service policies and procedures inadequate because they did not provide sufficient details to help them consistently evaluate appraisal valuations. We also noted the lack of specific criteria resulted in inconsistency between RLC staff and LGY Service Central Office staff with regard to agreeing with our conclusions on the sampled appraisals. RLC staff agreed 100 percent with our results while LGY Service central office staff did not. Furthermore, by moving forward with Recommendation 2 to procure an automated appraisal review tool, LGY Service is essentially implementing the intent of Recommendation 1. The solicitation for the procurement of the appraisal review tool states that the tool must create quality benchmarks and standardized metrics for appraisals and leverage existing resources to perform exception-based oversight. LGY Service will need to establish specific criteria for the automated tool to identify exceptions. VBA questions the validity of statistically extrapolating findings from the 47 sampled cases. Our audit found that RLC staff did not sufficiently review 35 of 47 sampled appraisals. Our report does not include any statistical extrapolations of this finding. However, our report does explain that losses on sales of acquired properties is a risk associated with inaccurate liquidation appraisals. Specifically, one of the factors affecting VA losses is the difference between the amount VA pays to acquire a foreclosed property (based on a liquidation appraisal) and the amount VA receives when selling the property (based on a marketing appraisal). We agree other factors affect VA losses, such as property depreciation and property maintenance costs and revised the report s conclusion to recognize these factors. We believe VA s $370 million loss in FY 2010 and $450 million loss in FY 2011 are significant costs of the LGY Program, which should be transparent to stakeholders, including Congress and taxpayers. VBA also stated our review of the appraisals contained errors in assessing key facts. However, we had provided case-specific information for the 35 appraisals that needed further review to VBA staff at the audited RLCs. We believe the RLC staff were the most qualified VBA subject matter VA Office of Inspector General 12

17 experts. These staff were RLC supervisors or senior employees who had years of field experience and knowledge and familiarity with the real estate markets where the appraisals were performed. As such, we discussed each case with RLC staff at length using the complete appraisal file, other RLC information related to the appraisal, and property information obtained from databases and sources recommended by RLC staff. The RLC staff agreed with our conclusions for all 35 appraisals. Officials in LGY Service Central Office subsequently reviewed 8 of the 35 appraisals and conveyed to us their concerns associated with their review. After considering their concerns, we determined our results, which RLC subject matter experts confirmed, did not include any errors. We consider VBA s planned actions acceptable, and we will follow up on their implementation. Appendix C contains the full text of the Under Secretary for Benefits comments. VA Office of Inspector General 13

18 Finding 2 Further Actions Needed to Strengthen LGY Service s Risk Management Program Although LGY Service had initiated a Risk Management Program, LGY Service needs to take further actions to fully implement it to strengthen risk management. During FY 2010, LGY Service did not analyze internal control test results, develop corrective action plans, and conduct ongoing monitoring. During FY 2011, LGY Service still had not completed some important risk management actions. This occurred because the managers FYs 2010 and 2011 performance plans did not ensure accountability for accomplishing specific requirements of the Risk Management Program. As a result, risks affecting LGY Service s ability to achieve program goals and objectives had the potential to go undetected until significant problems develop. Risk Management Program Not Fully Implemented Through FY 2011, LGY Service had not fully implemented a comprehensive Risk Management Program. Our April 2009 report, Audit of Veterans Benefits Administration s Loan Guaranty Program Risk Management (Report No , April 28, 2009), recommended the Under Secretary for Benefits establish policies and procedures requiring LGY Service to implement a comprehensive Risk Management Program that includes mechanisms for identifying, analyzing, and managing risks. In April 2010, a year after the recommendation, LGY Service issued a memorandum establishing LGY Service s Risk Management Program policies and procedures. The goal of LGY Service s Risk Management Program is to minimize risks by identifying and prioritizing potential risks and identifying and testing internal controls. To help ensure effectiveness in identifying and mitigating risks, the Risk Management Program requires LGY Service to produce an assessment report each year addressing the current state of the Risk Management Program. In addition, status reports are required for any remediation plans implemented to correct identified deficiencies. The April 2010 memorandum also indicates that the Chief, Oversight Unit, is responsible for implementing the Risk Management Program. The Government Accountability Office s report, Internal Control Management and Evaluation Tool (Report No. GAO G, August 2001) emphasizes the importance of promptly resolving the findings of audits and other reviews. LGY Service did not promptly resolve our April 2009 finding that LGY Service needed a comprehensive Risk Management Program. Over 2 years after we recommended establishing policies and procedures for risk management and over a year after establishing a Risk Management Program, LGY Service had not implemented significant elements of the program, including the annual risk assessment report and status reports detailing remediation plans to correct deficiencies. VA Office of Inspector General 14

19 Table 1 shows the status of LGY Service s implementation for the major requirements of each Risk Management Program element according to the Assistant Director for Oversight. Table 1 LGY Service Progress in Implementing Risk Management Program (FYs ) Element Major Requirements Implementation FY 2010 FY 2011 Beginning of each fiscal year, 1. Planning Internal Control Management (ICM) team coordinates and adjusts the process. 4/8/ /15/ Risk Assessment Risks identified, examined, and prioritized. 9/30/2010 6/30/ Identify Key Controls 4. Identify Control Information 5. Testing of Controls ICM team identifies controls (processes and procedures) needed to mitigate potential risks. ICM team analyzes controls and considers factors that may increase the risk of control failures. ICM tests controls for each LGY business line throughout the fiscal year. 9/30/2010 7/15/2011 9/30/2010 7/15/2011 9/30/2010 9/9/ Analysis ICM team analyzes test results. Not Completed 9/16/ Findings ICM team works with each Assistant Director and Business Line manager to finalize analyses, findings, and recommendations. Not Completed 9/16/ Corrective Action Plan Business lines develop corrective action plans (CAP) to track and improve deficiencies. Not Completed Not Completed 9. Reporting At the end of each fiscal year, risk matrixes and CAPs are incorporated into a report. Not Completed Not Completed 10. Ongoing Monitoring Every quarter, report detailing status of CAPs is provided to LGY senior management. Not Completed Not Completed Source: LGY Service, Assistant Director for Oversight LGY Service only completed the first 5 of the 10 major Risk Management Program requirements during FY In addition, during FY 2011, LGY Service completed only 7 of the 10 risk management requirements. VA Office of Inspector General 15

20 According to LGY Service managers, they did not fully implement the Risk Management Program because during FYs 2010 and 2011, their focus was on two other priorities Loan Systematic Technical Accuracy Review (LoanSTAR) and AMS/AVMS. LoanSTAR is a process for reviewing the actions of appraisers, lenders, servicers, and RLC staff to ensure compliance with applicable laws, regulations, policies, and procedures. The other initiative, which LGY Service had taken significant steps towards implementing, is the procurement of AMS/AVMS, a comprehensive automated appraisal quality control review tool intended to improve the quality and consistency of the appraisal review process and decrease risks to the LGY Program. To maximize the effectiveness of these initiatives, LGY Service must fully implement the Risk Management Program promptly and incorporate the results in its design and execution. For example, during FY 2010, LGY Service had not completed the Risk Management Program elements of testing controls, analyzing the test results and implementing Corrective Action Plans (CAPs) to improve deficiencies. As a result, LoanSTAR and AMS/AVMS may not adequately address control deficiencies and specific risks to the LGY Program. LGY Service s progress in implementing its Risk Management Program did not adhere to requirements of its policies and procedures and did not reflect the urgency and commitment needed, especially considering the significant risks associated with the Nation s housing crisis and record numbers of foreclosures and declines in property values. To ensure LGY Service mitigates these risks, LGY Service must implement all 10 interdependent elements of its Risk Management Program. The following discussion provides examples of specific Risk Management Program requirements not completed promptly by LGY Service. Testing Controls Controls are the policies, procedures, techniques, and mechanisms that help ensure LGY Service mitigates risks identified during risk assessments. They are essential for proper stewardship and accountability for VA resources and for achieving effective and efficient program results. LGY Service must regularly evaluate controls to ensure they are still appropriate and working as intended. LGY Service did not adhere to the following Risk Management Program policy and procedure requirements related to testing of controls during FYs 2010 or Testing will be conducted throughout the fiscal year, commencing upon completion of planning, risk assessment, identifying key controls, and identifying control information for each business line. To adhere to the dual requirements of testing controls throughout the fiscal year yet also commencing testing upon completion of the first four elements of planning through identifying control information, LGY Service must VA Office of Inspector General 16

21 complete the first four elements near the beginning of each fiscal year. However, LGY Service did not complete identifying control information for FY 2010 until September 2010, the final day of the fiscal year, and did not complete identifying control information for FY 2011 until July Our audit results show that LGY Service testing of controls needs improvement. LGY Service s September 2010 risk assessment report identified over-inflated property values as a possible risk area. The report also noted that in April 2009, LGY Service added a control to VBA Manual 26-2, Chapter 6, to ensure that lender or RLC staff review all appraisals. In addition, LGY Service did not complete testing of controls until September 2011, the last month of the fiscal year. LGY Service officials stated that they tested controls to ensure VA-guaranteed properties were properly valued and reviewers were completing quality reviews of liquidation appraisals. LGY Service officials also stated that these tests concluded that established controls ensured accurate VA-guaranteed property values. However, our review of 47 sampled Cleveland and Phoenix RLC real estate liquidation appraisals, found LGY Service oversight controls did not adequately identify comparable property selections, adjustments, and nonadjustments needing further review. If LGY Service had adequately tested its control of reviewing comparable properties selections and sales prices adjustments in appraisal reports, the testing would have shown that LGY Service needed to improve controls to include more specific criteria. This control improvement would provide adequate assurance that contractor appraisals reflect fair and reasonable property valuations. Corrective Action Plans To ensure outcomes of LGY Service control testing result in timely improvement of identified deficiencies, the Internal Control Management (ICM) team must promptly communicate the deficiencies to the individual responsible for the function and to at least one level of management above that individual. LGY Service must report serious deficiencies and internal control problems to top VBA management. Once reported, LGY Service must take corrective action or make improvements within established timeframes to resolve the matters brought to management s attention promptly. LGY Service did not adhere to the following Risk Management Program requirements related to CAPs. In order to track and follow up on deficiencies that have been found, LGY business lines will develop a Corrective Action Plan. This plan will serve as a roadmap to correct and monitor deficiencies. The CAP will be used for ongoing status reports to LGY senior management. During FYs 2010 and 2011, LGY Service did not develop any CAPs because as previously discussed, its testing of controls concluded no deficiencies VA Office of Inspector General 17

22 needed correction. By not developing CAPs, LGY Service has been operating without its planned roadmap for correcting and monitoring deficiencies and has proceeded with the LoanStar and AMS/AVMS initiatives that are intended to help improve oversight controls. To improve the effectiveness of its Risk Management Program, LGY Service needs to include both LoanSTAR and AMS/AVMS as part of an overall corrective action plan to track and improve deficiencies. Reporting and Monitoring The results of risk assessment, control testing, and CAPs must be reported to the Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity, LGY Service management, and others. To be effective, the reports must be provided in a form and within a time frame that enables internal stakeholders to carry out their control and operational responsibilities. Monitoring is crucial to ensure LGY Service completes the actions necessary to correct or otherwise resolve identified deficiencies. Ongoing monitoring needs to occur during normal operations and includes regular management and supervisory activities, comparisons, reconciliations, and other actions people take in performing their duties. LGY Service did not comply with the following Risk Management Program requirements related to reporting and monitoring. Reporting At the end of the fiscal year, the resulting risk matrices, CAPs, and actions taken will be incorporated into a report. This report will be distributed to the Assistant Directors and Deputy Director for an initial review, after which the report will be submitted to the Director of LGY Service on an annual basis for final review and concurrence. Monitoring The ICM team, with approval from the Director of LGY, will designate various levels of management that will monitor and report progress. This information will be gathered and used for status reports to the Director until the issues are resolved. The current status of the CAPs will be included in a report for review by the LGY senior management team every quarter. During FYs 2010 and 2011, LGY Service had not completed any of the required quarterly reports or end of fiscal year reports. LGY Service s untimely and incomplete implementation of the requirements of its Risk Management Program hindered its ability to identify, monitor, and manage potential LGY Program risks. Accountability LGY Service had not fully implemented the Risk Management Program because the FYs 2010 and 2011 managers performance plans did not ensure accountability for accomplishing specific requirements of the Risk Management Program. VA policy requires managers to ensure performance plans include the elements and standards that identify expected performance and to revise performance plans during appraisal periods due to changes in work assignments. The elements and standards must express performance threshold(s), requirement(s), or expectation(s) that staff must meet to be VA Office of Inspector General 18

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